Glyphosate, Cancer and the Safe Use of Weedkiller

September 18, 2018
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Recently a US court ordered Monsanto to pay $289million to a groundsman after it was claimed he had developed cancer from using glyphosate containing weed killers as part of his job at a school in California. It is expected that Monsanto will appeal this judgement.

There is not the space in this article for a detailed discussion of the scientific evidence regarding possible health effects of glyphosate, the US legal system or the regulation of plant protection products.

It is correct to say that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organisation, has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. There are currently 82 agents that fall into this category including creosotes, occupational exposure to oxidized bitumens and their emissions during roofing, manufacture of art glass, glass containers and pressed ware, indoor emissions from household combustion of biomass fuel (mainly wood), emissions from high-temperature frying, eating red meat and drinking very hot beverages at above 65°C. A full list can be found at:

It is also correct to say that EU member states have procedures for authorising plant protection products (e.g. herbicides, fungicides, insecticides etc) and the HSE state “Neither the EU’s assessment of glyphosate as an active substance nor the UK’s assessments of applications for authorisation of products which contain it have found the substance unacceptable for use.”

Just because a substance may have harmful effects this does not necessarily mean that it cannot be used, but care needs to be taken to ensure they are used safely.

A code of practice for the professional use of pesticides can be found on the HSE’s website at:

The code is aimed at everyone who uses pesticides professionally on farms and holdings, in horticulture, on amenity areas, industrial areas and sports grounds and in forestry. It covers issues such as:

  • Training and certification for certain types of pesticide
  • Storing pesticides correctly
  • Preventing exposure to people at work
  • Safe handling and transport of pesticides
  • Filling equipment
  • Methods of applying pesticides
  • What to do after working with pesticides
  • And disposal of pesticide waste

It is important that the correct procedures are followed when using any pesticides. As well as the code specific information should also be provided on the product label. Also general information on handling chemicals can be found on the COSHH pages of the HSE’s website:

Please speak to your normal PIB Risk Management contact if you have any questions about the safe use of pesticides and other plant protection products.